Food waste is not only a major factor in the production of greenhouse gasses, but the amount of food being wasted (more often that not in the most developed nations) is more than enough to feed the world two-fold.
The environmental impact of food waste (on the low side)
Scientists are not unaware of the environmental impact of food waste and the carbon footprint it leaves. Last week, the Washington Post took apart a United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) study from 2011 which reported that, in 2007, 3.3 billion tons of carbon dioxide equivalent was produced by nothing more than the production of food that ultimately just went to waste. That number represents more than most countries produced in the same year. The study’s estimation was based on the emissions from livestock, soil and all the energy needed to run the farms responsible for producing the food before it went to waste.
Now, a new study recently published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, says things are not getting better, but rather your guessed it, it’s getting considerably worse and will continue to not only negatively affect the environment and climate but also threaten global food security.
Researchers for the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany are responsible for the new paper, and what’s worse than the aforementioned problem is the fact that the researchers likely underestimated the impact wasted food is having and will have on the environment and food security.
“When we’re talking about the future food requirements — what can we do to meet the future food demand — we found that to investigate food waste is a quite crucial aspect,” said the paper’s lead author Prajal Pradhan, a postdoctoral researcher at Potsdam.
What went into the study?
In order to reach their conclusions, the researchers scoured available U.N. data to look at the food needed, by country, to feed the population at an optimal level. The researchers than compared this number to the amount of food that was actually produced to determine if that specific country produced a food shortage or a food surplus. If a surplus was found, the researchers deemed that food as “waste,” but did point out that some of this food was surely not wasted but went into livestock feed or enjoyed by the overweight in each country.
While nitrous oxide and methane emitted by both soil and livestock were considered, the electricity and diesel required to run a farm were not, hence, suggestions that the numbers are worse than the researchers acknowledged.
The recently published paper suggests that in 2010, 20% more food was being produced than was needed at the same time that 800 million people were undernourished according to U.N. data. The researchers went on to point out that in 2010, enough food was produced to comfortably feed an additional 1.4 billion people. Yeah, you read it correctly, enough food to feed those that need it close to twice.
“So much of poverty and famine aren’t about a lack of resources overall — they’re just distributional [problems],” said Emily Broad Leib , an assistant clinical professor of law and director of the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic. “It’s not surprising to see that, and both across countries and within countries this challenge of the food markets really being attainable for certain segments of the population and not for others,” she added having read the study in comments with the Washington Post.
“One of the best outcomes would be getting consumers to make better decisions and have less waste at the household level and have supply chains adjust to that and redistribute that food earlier in the chain,” said Broad Leib.